Kicking Out: The best and worst of 2021

M*** F*****: Yes, that’s right, Maor Foirne. About time they were banned. You would have loved a few of them to be emptied by a player, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

Overdue Allstar: John Small

Overdue black card: James McCarthy v Mayo. Never seen anyone try as hard to get sent off.

Back it up: In a fine piece with Andy Watters, Harry Loughran told of how he stood on the bus the whole way from Omagh to Ballybofey in 2018 because his back was so badly busted he couldn’t sit. Then he came on in a Super 8s decider and scored a goal.

Smile: In the stunning documentary Finding Jack Charlton, the way his face lights up as he recognises Paul McGrath was an unforgettable piece of TV.

Draws: A big year for draws, though not the kind that used to lead to replays before the clubs got big and bold, rather the kind the GAA makes in November for games in May. Last year’s championship draw lasted longer than the European Super League. Connacht made a hames of theirs, with Connacht chairman John Murphy taking a canister containing one team from the bowl in front of him before putting it back and choosing poor Leitrim to face Mayo or Sligo instead. The year ended on a better note though, with St Eunan’s chairman John Haran’s son going full Fr Ted. “Number 11, Da!” The old man had the sharp wit to spare himself the Garth Brooks tickets and look good in the process.

Training bans: While Down and Dublin were both hit by the GAA’s ban on training and paid a heavy price, the real toll was felt by Monaghan, who had to play a home league game in Brewster Park.

Should be made illegal: GAA training during major football tournaments. Any manager making a team train against a big game when the Qataris host the World Cup For Straight Men Only in December should have their week’s wag… er, sorry, their expens… er, 12-week ban anyone?

Monaghan-Galway: A game Monaghan fans should put into a time capsule. Keeping them in Division One for an eighth year running was one thing, but there were moments like Conor McManus’ equaliser, Jack McCarron’s ridiculous scores and Farney ‘keeper Rory Beggan fouling Galway ‘keeper Conor Gleeson that were almost as far out of the ordinary as the time we spent waiting for Padraic Joyce to speak afterwards. We’re still waiting.

Use of the arse: In the week that Yaya Toure wrote a column for The Athletic entitled ‘why bums are so important in football’, Paddy McBrearty gave a masterclass in using his against Down. He just backed in and stood his ground all day.

Dead before it’s alive: When the GAA proposed the Tailteann Cup for Special Congress, they listed the final for a “venue to be determined by CCCC” instead of just nailing it down for Croke Park. Then just before Christmas, they intimated that the Tailteann Cup final wasn’t on the same day as the All-Ireland decider so that the players from those counties could get back to their clubs quicker. It’s as if they want the thing to fail.

Things you could buy for £15: A good 2022 diary, a new pen, a half bottle of your favourite liquor, an adapter, seven half-time soups, a month’s worth of illegal streaming, two boxes of Roses.

Things you couldn’t buy for £15: The Tyrone final.

Tyrone Tribulations (@gombeen) tweet of the year: “Fantastic gesture. U16s now only £2.99 entry for County Final. Or 2 children for £5.50. Cousins not accepted.”

Retirement statement: You would have sworn last January the Mayo footballers had a WhatsApp group solely for the purposes of co-ordinating retirement statements. But the best retirement of the lot was our own Paddy Heaney, who bowed out from his Second Coming on this gem of a story.

Davy Harry [McCloskey] was playing full-back for Dungiven. He was marking Paddy Bradley. Paddy was in his prime. Davy thought he was doing rightly. He’d kept Paddy to a few points.

But the Dungiven manager wasn’t impressed. Davy got the curly finger. As he trudged off the pitch, he was visibly dejected. The manager move to console him.

“Never worry Davy,” he said.

“I’ve seen thon boy destroy good footballers.”

Blame shifting: On the tenth anniversary of Jim McGuinness taking charge of Donegal, Eamon McGee shifted blame for the apocalypse on to others.

"Jim McGuinness didn't ruin the game. A lot of shite coaches tried to copy and paste what he was about,” said McGee.

Funny story: Amid the post-match celebrations after Tyrone’s win over Kerry, I spied what I thought was a beautiful scene. In the Monday’s paper, I’d written about it: “Conor McKenna is nabbed for a photo. A Tyrone father, a Kerry mother and a child drawn to the maternal line of thinking, sitting up on the barriers in his green-and-gold. McKenna’s jersey is handed over. The cub has a sudden change of heart. His new hero disappears and the smile he leaves behind him is not the smile of a Kerry fan any more. His father’s smile? Bigger than Dooher’s.”

Turns out the wife was an Armagh woman wearing a Kerry jersey. Classic GAA behaviour.

Team-building: You could go for Tyrone’s night out after the hammering in Killarney, but there was also a quick tale from Derry minors on their way to All-Ireland glory. One night, Calum Downey and Dan Higgins were injured and watching training. They asked kitman Colm McGuigan if they could pull the kit van around to the back pitch and sit in it to take shelter from the rain. They proceeded to get it bogged in the back field. By the time their team-mates got it pushed out, they were brown from head to toe and almost ready for school in the morning.

Oisin McConville Part One: Mickey Harte on BBC: “I don’t believe a man should have to win his own ball. When it’s yours, you have it, why should you have to win it?”

Oisin McConville back to him: “The only thing about it, Mickey, if you were still in charge, they wouldn’t have kicked it in to him in the first place.”

Oisin McConville Part Two: Taking exception to Paul Flynn on the Second Captains podcast, McConville goes full south Armagh. “Anti-Dublin bias is the biggest load of bollocks. Pure, total and utter dung.”

Read the room, man: Donal Óg Cusack complaining on The Sunday Game that inter-county teams shouldn’t be playing four weeks in a row, that the inter-county season is "gone too short" and should be stretched back out again to avoid harming the ‘promotion’ of the games. Apart from the split season being an absolute necessity, one of the greatest promotions of GAA is having the superstars playing for their clubs as often as possible, so that youngsters could know them personally. That's a better weapon than TV.

Feed: It takes nearly three hours to get from south Derry to Gaoth Dobhair. Neil McGee had promised food. Being an athlete in his prime, I was expecting salad and quinoa. Never so glad to see a lorryload of bacon, sausage and beans in my life.

Class: The way Monaghan and their opponents Down conducted themselves after Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh’s tragic death. The county U20 captain’s life was cut cruelly short hours after an Ulster semi-final win over Donegal. When the Ulster final was played two weeks later, Monaghan threw everything they had at it. Down did the same. In the end the Mournemen won after extra-time. Conor Laverty instantly cooled his players’ natural inclination to celebrate, and the young Down men commiserated with their opponents instead. Brendan Óg’s father had spoken with such class and composure on TG4 at half-time, telling how his son would have been delighted that Ronan Grimes was captaining Monaghan. When Down’s Ruairi O’Hare spoke after the game, he told of his own tragedy at losing friend Niall Laverty two years earlier, and how he sympathised. Young men who carried themselves superbly, honouring Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh in the best way.

More class: Michael Murphy was given man of the match by TG4 for Donegal’s league game against Tyrone. He turned around and gave the award to Bradas O’Donnell, who was on camera duty for TG4 and whose brother and esteemed local photographer Michael ‘Jack’ had recently passed away. ‘That one was for Michael’.

The impressionist who never gets boring: Conor Moore. An incredible range of voices.

Accountancy: Another gem from an Andy Watters interview, this time with former GAA president Peter Quinn. He had gone with a friend to a meeting about potentially becoming an accountant. Quinn takes up the story:

“I says: ‘What the f**k is accountancy?’ Anyway I went with him to the office and after a while this lady asked us: ‘What religion are you?’ I said: ‘What difference does that make?’ She says: ‘Sorry but I thought, by your names, that you might be Catholic and most of the offices in the city don’t take Catholics’. On the way home on the bus, I turned to McLoughlin and said: ‘I’m going to do accountancy.’ He says: ‘What are you on about? Sure you didn’t know what it was an hour ago! I said: ‘If those bastards have it sewn up it must be a good racket and I want into it’.”

Unwanted soccerism: The booing from the crowd 17-year-old Conor Owens as he kicked an injury-time free at the end of the All-Ireland minor final. Whether it was Meath fans on their own or there was a helping from Kerry fans gathering for the senior game, it was just downright wrong.

Eggs in the basket: Down’s county committee deciding they wouldn’t offer their full backing to Paddy Tally without any earthly idea of who they would give it to, followed by a lengthy pursuit of a Conor Laverty, Marty Clarke and Jim McGuinness management team, before having to turn to James McCartan to pull them out of a sizeable hole after more than four months. McCartan will do well but this isn’t the first mess Down have made of an appointment in recent years.

Demystifying the new arts: There was a tackle sequence by Kilkenny against Dublin in the Leinster SHC that was utterly reminiscent of Tyrone-Kerry in 2003. Maybe we aren’t giving it enough credit but it just appeared to be good old-fashioned hard work by a series of different forwards, without the need to call it gegenpressing. Kilkenny don’t have the tools they once had but in many ways they’re more admirable now for their refusal to ever give in.

Everyone’s new second favourite team: Offaly U20s. Were involved in three games in the Leinster final, the semi-final v Down and the All-Ireland final against Roscommon. Cormac Egan was a tonic. But here lads, the mullets. C’mon now.

Saving progress: All the good that Niall Morgan’s adventures have done for ragamuffin goalkeepers was almost undone when Aidan O’Shea caught him walkabouts in the All-Ireland final, only for a full-length Ronan McNamee to prevent goalkeeping being sent back to the dark ages.

Wasn’t even Tyrone’s best block: That honour goes to Peter Harte, who put himself in the line of fire to deny Killian Spillane.

Exchange: In the post All-Ireland glow, Conor Meyler emerged as a fresh character in football. As he revealed to Brendan Crossan in a superb interview, he and Paddy Durcan had a bit of craic with each other during the All-Ireland final.

"You're in bother today..."

"Five minutes have passed and you haven't touched the ball…”

"That was your f***ing fault"

And so on.

Club notes of the year: As spotted by Kevin Egan, a gem from a GAA club’s weekly notes. "This correspondent will never be overly critical of our teams or players, and I'm sure nobody will be disappointed as the lads themselves after the game. However, this was nothing short of a shambles."